Amazon's regular E Ink Kindle continues to be massively popular thanks to its easy to read display and Amazon's vast collection of digital books. The Kindle Fire HD tablets aim to take that popularity and add high-definition colour screens and a host of media streaming services on top.
The 8.9-inch model reviewed here begins at £230 for the 16GB model or £259 for 32GB. Both of those are subsidised slightly by displaying ads on the lock screen. An extra £10 will get you the tablet with no ads. You can always buy the ad-supported version and pay to remove the ads if you find them annoying.
Should I buy the Kindle Fire HD 8.9-inch?
The Kindle Fire HD 8.9 is identical to its 7-inch sibling in basically every way. They share the same outward design, run the same simple-to-use-software and have access to the same multimedia content from Amazon. The only difference is down to the physical size of the screen.
With a bigger display and higher resolution, the 8.9-inch Fire will be better suited to watching videos and reading glossy magazines on without zooming in as much. On the other hand, it's slightly less portable than the 7-inch model and less comfortable to hold up in one hand. If you primarily want a Fire for ebooks, with just a splash of social networking, the smaller Fire might be the one for you. It's really down to personal preference.
Both models rely almost entirely on Amazon's various streaming services and dedicated app store. Although there's plenty of content available, if you want to browse a much wider selection of apps or make more use of other, non-Amazon services, an Android tablet might be a better choice.
The Google Nexus 7 is still a superb option, providing a high definition screen and powerful processor. At £160, it's £70 less than the cheapest Kindle Fire. Spend an extra £39, however, and you can snag an iPad mini. Its metal frame is much more luxurious, you can download videos from iTunes for offline playback and you'll have access to hundreds of thousands of apps in the iOS app store.
Design and build quality
In design terms, the 8.9-inch Fire is identical to its 7-inch sibling. Both models share the all-black colour scheme and rubberised back with metal strip. That rubberised back looks rather smart although picks up greasy marks a bit too easily. It's not as luxurious as the metal on the iPad mini, but it doesn't feel cheap either.
The difference between it and its little brother is in size only. The expanded screen size means it now measures 239mm wide, 163mm tall and is 9mm thick. It's slightly slimmer than the smaller model, although isn't pushing the iPad mini's svelte 7.2mm thickness. At 567g, it's heavier than the iPad mini too, but it's far from bulky. You won't struggle much to hold it in one hand while reading for at least an hour.
There's no flex in the chassis, nor is there any annoying loose panelling, which helps make it feel like a well constructed slate. I'd have no worries about chucking it into my carry-on luggage and waltzing through the airport. If you want to keep it pristine for as long as possible though, there's a wide selection of cases and covers on Amazon.
Around the edges you'll find a micro-USB port for charging and data transfer, a micro-HDMI port for connecting it to a big TV, along with a 3.5mm headphone jack, a volume rocker and power button. The buttons sit almost perfectly flush with their surroundings, which makes them very difficult to find by touch alone, and I found this a little annoying. They're easy to press once you eventually find them though.
There's no slot for a micro SD card, so you'll have to make do with whatever storage amount you chose. If you get the majority of your content using streaming services like Spotify, Lovefilm and Netflix then you'll probably be fine with the 16GB model. If, however, you're likely to buy a lot of image-rich magazines, want to save photos and music locally and are a serial app addict, I recommend opting for the higher capacity model.
Tucked into the metal strip on the back are a pair of speakers. I was far from blown away by the sound they produced, but then speakers on tablets and phones never impress. They do the job for the odd YouTube clip, but if you want to enjoy your movies at their best, you'll want to plug in a good set of headphones. Having speakers on either side does at least mean you aren't constantly covering them up if you hold one side, as I constantly find to be a problem with my third-generation iPad.
You won't find a camera on the back, but there is a front-facing lens to make video calls over Skype.
The 8.9-inch display boasts a 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution, making it Full HD. That's quite impressive for a device of this size. It gives it a pixel density of 254ppi. By contrast, the 7-inch model has 216ppi, while the iPad mini brings up the rear with 168ppi.
Although it has a higher pixel density than its little brother, I actually found the smaller screen appeared sharper. The fine detail in a tree's leaves in my test image were much clearer on the smaller screen. Colours are slightly warmer on the 8.9-inch model, but it isn't noticeable enough to make much difference when you watch movies.
It might not look quite as crisp as its sibling, but fine text still looked perfectly sharp. It therefore functions well as an ebook reader and can display your streamed movies in Full HD without any problems. It's also bright and rather bold too, so it's generally well-equipped to act as a all-round excellent media device.
Amazon Kindle software
At its core, the slate is running on Android software, but it's unrecognisable from the Android you'd experience on phones like the Samsung Galaxy S3 or HTC One. Amazon has essentially taken the architecture of Android and built its own software on top.
Instead of multiple homescreens, you're met with a carousel showing your most recently accessed books, music, photos and apps. Pressing and holding an item can remove it from the carousel, but that option is perilously close to the 'remove from device' button and there's no confirmation request if you hit it by accident.
Along the top is a list of items for games, apps, books, music, videos etc. Pulling down from the top of the screen unveils a notifications bar, in which you'll also be able to access system settings. Home and back navigation buttons appear on the right-hand side, but are able to hide away in apps and videos so you can enjoy your content in full screen.
It's neatly laid out and isn't difficult to use. Even the most chronic technophobe shouldn't find themselves struggling after an hour or two of playing around.
The on-screen keyboard is clearly laid out and easy to use, although one problem I found was the back navigation button is placed roughly where you'd expect the backspace key to be. On several occasions I navigated back a page when I intended to delete a word. It's the same issue Jason Jenkins found when reviewing the smaller Kindle Fire too.
It might be an Android slate at heart, but the Kindle Fire HD doesn't have access to the Google Play store or its vast catalogue of apps held within. Instead, Amazon curates its own stripped down app store. It has around 20,000 apps, including most of the essentials. Facebook, Twitter, Spotify, Netflix, BBC iPlayer and Real Racing 3 are there, but Google's collection including Gmail, Google Drive and Maps, along with apps like Instagram, aren't available.
If you're an app addict who likes nothing more than
boring entertaining your friends with your high scores on the latest fashionable mobile game then this probably isn't going to be the slate for you. If your app needs don't stretch further than keeping up with Facebook posts then you won't have any problems with the store's shelves.
Music, video, books and magazines
The Kindle Fire HD is primarily designed to be a multimedia consumption device. As such, you'll have access to Amazon's vast collection of music, ebooks and magazines as well as video from Lovefilm.
The process for buying books is the same as on regular Kindles. You can browse on the tablet or on Amazon's desktop site and, once purchased, your book will be instantly downloaded to your registered devices. It's totally fuss and trouble free which will suit the gadget geeks and tech-fearing people alike.
Buying music works in much the same way. Any music you have previously bought from Amazon's music library will be available, and you can transfer up to 250 songs from your computer to Amazon's cloud service for free.
You can up that number to 250,000 for a yearly £22 fee. Amazon has over 20 million songs in its catalogue so you're unlikely to find your favourite artists missing. You can access the cloud music service from up to ten devices, including iPhones, Android phones and desktop computers.
Amazon's newsstand allows you to download the latest issues of a variety of magazines and newspapers. You'll generally pay around the same as you would for a single issue of the paper mag in a shop, but you do at least get the convenience of carrying numerous issues around in a small tablet.
The screen is just about big enough to enjoy magazines, but you will find yourself zooming in on smaller text. Swiping through the pages of an issue of Olive magazine was fairly smooth, although pages sometimes took several seconds to render properly, which could prove irritating if you're skimming through to find a particular article.
Video is delivered to the tablet by Lovefilm. While you do have access to a huge library of TV shows and movies for £4.99 per month, it's a streaming service only -- there's no way to save video locally to the device. You therefore need to maintain a constant Internet connection in order watch your shows.
That's a problem for the Fire, as with both Apple's iPad and regular Android tablets you can buy movies to watch offline. Watching films on trains without Wi-Fi, on planes, or just with a dodgy Internet connection isn't going to work. The only way you're going to get video offline is if you transfer the files over from your computer.
Processor and performance
The 8.9-inch Kindle Fire runs on a Texas Instruments OMAP4470 processor -- a dual-core 1.5GHz affair. In terms of straight-line power, it isn't going to offer any kind of challenge to the supercharged quad-core tablets, but it's not designed to. Instead, it's supposed to pack enough wallop to handle your media needs.
Thankfully then, it seems to do just that. Navigating around the interface was mostly free of any noticeable lag as was opening menus and settings. It was able to stream Full HD video without any judder too -- it would have been a huge problem if it struggled with this.
Gaming fans will appreciate the Fire's grasp of 3D graphics too. Playing Real Racing 3, I was impressed at the crisp graphics, detailed lighting reflections and, crucially, the smooth frame rates it achieved. There aren't masses of games available in the store -- and some that are there are more expensive than their Android counterparts -- but the tablet is ready to tackle the ones you do find.
As a purely media-focused device, the Fire HD 8.9 has a lot going for it. Its Full HD screen is ideal for video playback and Amazon's various streaming services provide a wealth of content to enjoy. You're limited to only using Amazon's stores though, so if you ever plan on buying your media elsewhere -- or want a more expansive app selection -- a standard Android tablet might be the better option.